We spent the past three days in Northern Ireland. There is so much I could say, but I'll try to sum it up. There were parts that were beautiful. We did a couple different hikes, scrambled around some more ruins, climbed Giant's Causeway, chased some sheep, and explored a sea cave. I could talk about that part for a while because it really was fun! But those won't be the parts I remember the most...
Our first day we spent in Belfast. For the most part, we were on a bus getting a tour of the city and looking at the peace walls and murals. In the course of the day, we got three very different perspectives on the conflict. The first came from our bus driver, Brian. He would be on the nationalist/republican/Catholic side. He wants Ireland to be united with Northern Ireland. From his perspective, we saw how the Irish people are a very distinct group that should not be lumped in with the English. In the course of history, the English are very recent invaders. We also saw several murals that represented other political causes around the world. It seems many in Northern Ireland sympathize with anyone they deem persecuted. But it was especially interesting to see a mural of the Israeli-Palestinian wall.That is one conflict they can definitely identify with in the sense, they know what it is like to have physical walls up that divide people.
After that we picked up Nolan. Now, this man doesn't look very intimidating, but there's a lot more to him than you would realize. He grew up in a unionist/loyalist/Protestant community in Northern Ireland. In his younger days, he was a part of the UVF- a paramilitary group in the area. He argued that in many ways he is British. Yes, he grew up in N. Ireland, but it has more to do with a mindset than location. He sees their province as being directly related to the crown and that's the way it should be. But, I kind of got the impression he would be willing to give that up, if it meant peace. At one point he said something that really struck me. "This conflict has less to do with the physical walls dividing the communities and more to do with the walls that are in people's minds. Those are the ones that to be torn down." How true. It made me do a lot of reflecting on my own life. Are there places I have put up walls? Where have I judged people without ever really knowing them?
The day really hit home when we went to a church that sits right on the border between communities. Standing in the sanctuary, if you take two steps right your on Protestant territory, and two step left puts you on the Catholic side. But in the church, everything is neutral. There are no sides; there is only worshiping God. We were able to hear from Pastor Jack who is a very courageous man. He has been shot at, received death threats, had bombs put in his car, etc. And yet, he keeps going; pressing for peace in this land. We also heard testimonies from two guys who were former paramilitary members and eventually stopped because of this church. Now they work with the youth to build reconciliation and peace. It was incredible to hear how God is working through them now in Northern Ireland.
I'll conclude with a few random facts I learned from them about the conflict...
- In a recent survey, 85% of the people want the peace walls to come down. Maybe not right away, but sooner rather than later.
- Segregation is prolonging the conflict. They are seeing a great need to integrate especially in the schools at a young age so the kids don't grow up seeing themselves different from the other side.
-The walls are still in place mostly for political reasons. It is easier for people to get government support if there is still a conflict- something the walls represent. If the walls come down, the government might forget there are still problems, and they might not get as much funding.
- Facebook is helping break down walls between young people here. They are able to learn about each other and communicate despite all the barriers- both socially and physically. (This is ironic since I just watched The Social Network tonight and that is definitely not what it was designed for. But hey, God can use all things for good!)